‘Atlas’ ending explained: Does Smith die?
(Credits: Netflix)

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'Atlas' ending explained: Does Smith die?

Jennifer Lopez is back among Hollywood’s big hitters, receiving top billing in the straight-to-Netflix all-action sci-fi movie Atlas. The film’s trailer left us rapt with anticipation, particularly with its AI character Smith drawing comparisons with the antagonistic supercomputer HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The buzz around the movie has pushed it straight to the top of Netflix’s most-watched list for the first week of June. J-Lo’s first number one in more than a decade.

Opposite Smith, Lopez plays eponymous computer analyst Atlas Shepherd, who’s bidding to save a future generation of humanity from the threat of an AI machine named Harlan hell-bent on leading a deadly war against humanity.

It was Atlas’ mother who created Harlan, who was “originally engineered to advance humanity” but “instead nearly ended it” in a terror attack when Atlas was a child. In this way, Atlas’ mission to find Harlan on the remote planet where it’s taken refuge is also a personal vendetta.

Her mission starts badly, following the well-worn path of most heroic journeys. As she arrives on the planet where Harlan is hiding, her entire team of human army rangers is killed by the evil AI machine’s forces. Atlas is forced to use one of her team’s mechs, a giant robot itself programmed by AI, to save herself and continue the fight against Harlan.

The mech she is trying to use, it turns out, is run by “a computer programme named Smith.” But Unlike HAL from Kubrick’s pioneering film, the computer inside Atlas’ host vessel doesn’t have bad intentions towards her.

On the contrary, much to her reluctance they soon strike up something of a friendship. Bizarrely, at some point the movie takes on the dimensions of a buddy comedy. A very unusual one, it must be said.

Smith 2.0?

After Atlas agrees to interface her mind with Smith, she and the computer begin sharing a special connection. As Smith observes, “This is what it feels like to be us.” This makes it utterly devastating for us when a badly damaged Smith shuts down once the pair have defeated Harlan at the film’s climax.

Atlas herself barely escapes with her life, and returns to earth. She then designs a new model of mech for the army rangers to use.

But wait! Isn’t this the beauty of computers? In the same way we’re able to programme our pre-existing personal settings onto a smartphone in a matter of seconds, Atlas has managed to design a new mech that is, to all intents and purposes, Smith.

It already knows she prefers coffee with “three goddam sugars”, which is what she’d told Smith during her mission to defeat Harlan. And when she asks her its name, it simply replies, “Guess.” 

Guess who’s back. The movie ends there, but we already know the answer. Smith is back, like a shiny new laptop with all your old photos saved on the cloud server connected to its hard drive. Best friends forever.